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Look What He's Doing With Smolder Energy
George Woods spotted something unusual last spring on the coal slag heap which covers several acres outside his small Prospect, Ohio, manufacturing facility. The pile was steaming.
Woods, who also farms, investigated and found the pile hot to the touch, although there was no smoke or smell. He sunk a thermometer into it and found, to his surprise, a reading of 500? F just below the surface. Something was burning.
"To see what would happen, I dumped a load of wood chips right over the hot spot," he relates. "Instead of burning off, it rained on them and they just steamed."
He then shoved a thermometer into the pile and found the chips had reached 240? F and stayed there. Four months went by and nothing changed, although in the summer he had to add water to keep the chips wet. But the chips didn't deteriorate and the coal underneath never stopped smoldering.
"The slag contains coal cinders, carbon and other things. Our factory was a coal-fired power plant at one time," says Woods, explaining the huge pile of used coal refuse. "When it kept burning and began giving off methane gas, I knew I had something. If it burned like that when uncontrolled, what would it do if I could control it."
To find out, George built a pit furnace last fall and, along with it, tried to duplicate conditions in the coal heap as closely as possible. He dug a 10 by 10 by 15 ft. hole just 100 ft. from his house. He plans to heat it all winter with his newly-discovered "smolder energy".
George filled the pit with alternating layers of coal dust, cinders, and other combustibles. Vent pipes carry oxygen into the pit and let him control the rate of burn all the way to the bottom of the pit.
Across the top, he heaped a pile made up of wood chips, straw, grass, manure and other items that will compost rapidly from the heat of the pit. This pile is laced with several old steam radiators connected together with 1-in. pipe. The pipe runs underground to the house, carrying water which has picked up heat in the smoldering "pit" furnace. furnace and carries it back to the house.
Over the. composted material, George piled a layer of dirt about 3 ft. deep to seal the pit and keep the moisture in. A layer of plastic is "domed" over that to seal it air tight.
George is convinced that much of the heat in the composting material comes from bacteria, fired into action by the high temperatures. The pit also gives off methane gas which George plans to salvage (via a pipe running out the top of the domed pit) for fuel.
"Burning coal gives off hydrogen and natural gas and that may be what's burning below its the heap, rather than the coal itself," says George. "That would explain why the pile never burns down or deteriorates."
Since he lit the pit furnace last fall, it's been smoldering steadily all winter. "The only expense will be to empty the pit in the spring - if it's burned out. Cinders and coal dust are available for practically no cost," he says. He spent around $500 to complete his experimental pit. Since he already had hot water heat in his house,, most of the expense was in running underground water pipes out to the pit. There are quick-release fittings on the steam radiators so they can be easily removed when the pit has to be restocked.
"There's more heat there than we can use, so we'll be heating other buildings with it. This winter, we're working out the bugs," George told FARM SHOW. He has patent protection on the idea and plans to market it commercially.
For more information, contact: FARM SHOW Followup, George Woods, Wood's Carriers, Inc., P.O. Box 32, Prospect, Ohio 43342 (614 494-2821).

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1980 - Volume #4, Issue #1